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Benton Harbor Area Schools keeping kids safe during water crisis; Allegan educators helping out

Benton Harbor Area Schools keeping kids safe during water crisis; Allegan educators helping out
Posted at 8:22 PM, Oct 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-28 21:51:44-04

(WXMI) — Loading up cases of bottled water, students and staff worked alongside one another on Wednesday in Allegan.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” said Bill Brown, superintendent of the Allegan Area Educational Service Agency.

AAESA launched a water drive this week in support of the district’s counterparts in southwest Michigan.

“I said, ‘We need to do something for Benton Harbor,’” said Brown. “I know they are not in our service area, but they are our neighbors to the south.”

Earlier this month, the state recommended people living in Benton Harbor no longer use tap water after testing showed high lead levels in the city’s water supply. People are no longer able to do simple tasks like drink, cook, or brush their teeth without opening up a bottle.

READ MORE: Benton Harbor urged to use bottled water due to lead risk

Brown says it’s a difficulty only amplified in the school setting.

“The first thing that came to my mind was, ‘How do you continue to have school when you’re trying to prepare lunches? Have drinking fountains when students cannot access water?’” said Brown. “We know for students to learn, to reach their capacity, their brain has to be hydrated, and imagine trying to keep several hundred students from using a drinking fountain.”

In just three days the district says it has collected more than 1,000 bottles and $300 in donations. Officials expect those numbers to grow over the next few days as the collection continues.

“I would probably be just distracted,” said Bee Ostrowska, a senior. “Obviously a lot of students, if they’re not getting enough water, would be light headed, have a headaches. It’s kind of like that karma… do good for them [and] maybe if we’re ever in crisis, they can help us.”

Benton Harbor Area Schools Superintendent Dr. Andraé Townsel says community efforts have helped the district keep their schools stay open.

“It’s just a community coming together [and] solving the problem,” said Townsel.

Townsel says when the issue of high lead levels first arose in 2018, the district started to utilize bottled water and filters. Officials also tested all of the pipes within district buildings. Townsel says a handful had elevated results but were shut off.

Following the state’s announcement, Townsel says the district ramped up their safety measures. Students now exclusively use bottled water and filtration systems have begun to be outfitted for water fountains. The district also retested its pipes. Results are expected to be shared with the community this week.

READ MORE: Michigan sending water, filters to Benton Harbor due to lead

“Water is a key element to life in general, even plants need water, but we’re talking about human beings and safety and security and nutrition; it’s important,” said Townsel.

It’s a stress that no district should experience, but Townsel says it won’t stop Benton Harbor’s progress.

“We don’t wish it was easier; we wish for better,” said Townsel. “We don’t wish for less challenges; we can wish for more skills. We don’t wish for less problems; we wish for more wisdom, and with that in mind, we just approach it and respond accordingly.”

AAESA is accepting donations through the weekend. To donate a case of water or make a monetary donation, people can drop them off at 310 Thomas St.

READ MORE: Benton Harbor residents: Pick up bottled water at these locations (Oct. 27–Nov. 1)

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